The History and Evolution of Managed IT Services

History: we’ve lived through it, and more is being made every day. And while what’s happening in IT services may not seem quite as dramatic as what’s happening in the rest of the world, there’s no doubt that the industry is rapidly evolving in ways that will change how IT business is done going forward.

And it’s not just that the way IT services are handled: it’s in the increasing need for every business to have a robust online presence, and with that, the need for trusted managed IT service providers. So how did we get here? As always, to get a sense of where we are going, it’s worthwhile to take a look back.

From “Break / Fix” To Managed Services 

For a long time, the dominant model for IT services was “Break / Fix.” A business would have their system set up, then when something went wrong, they’d call up an IT team to come fix it. Sure, that meant lots of downtime while they waited for the team to address the issue and big bills to fix major problems. But at the time, companies either weren’t relying as heavily on technology in their day to day business, or least they didn’t believe that they did.

As times changed and technology advanced, it became clear to many companies that technology was absolutely essential to their operation. The long down times and significant work (and income) reductions that came with the “break / fix” model were simply unacceptable. Still, it wasn’t feasible or practical for many companies – especially small businesses – to have their own full-time IT expert. So managed IT services were born.

In the managed IT services model, companies contracted with outside team of IT experts to monitor their technology and fix any issues that arise as soon as possible. This meant that companies no longer had to worry about crashing systems or email being down, but could also leverage more sophisticated and complex technology. The IT team would even update a company’s technology and systems to be up-to-date.

A New World of IT

Today, more business than ever is conducted online. Cloud computing gives companies access to levels of data storage and online collaboration that would have been unthinkable (or at least unaffordable) just ten years ago.

And with so much more happening in that cloud space rather than on hard drives, cyber security is even more essential as well. Fortunately, managed IT services can also put systems in place (like multi-factor authentication) to prevent data from being stolen, exploited, or tampered with.

So it’s no surprise that companies are increasing the resources they give to IT: data shows that 44% of businesses plan to increase their tech spending this year.

And more changes are in store.

Soon, 5G technology will likely transform the digital landscape again, increasing the speed and capacity of online systems while decreasing latency (the time it takes for data to travel between devices and cellular towers- practically, the delay between your action and a site’s response). Soon, people from across the world will be able to collaborate together as though they are in the same room.

The power of 5G technology, along with other revolutionary innovations like the Internet of Things (IOT), could change everything about the way we do business and live our lives. It goes without saying the “break / fix” model wouldn’t fly in this new world. Every business that wants to stay competitive will need a trusted IT team of experts to manage their technology and ensure their cyber security.

And a business that doesn’t adapt to this new world of IT? Well, they’re history.

Take Control of Your Future

Fortunately, a trustworthy IT partner isn’t hard to find. In fact, you’ve got one right here: Beacon IT Services (BITS). We’ve been helping our clients manage their IT since 1998: we’ve been there through IT’s history and evolution, and we can help you ready your business for the future.

Contact us today to discuss your managed IT needs, or request a free audit. Your future begins today.

By | 2020-06-25T11:49:34+00:00 June 25th, 2020|System Administration, Computer Related, 5G, IT Services|

Document Storage Solutions for the Work-From-Home Era

working from homeLast month, as many businesses were amending their operations to function in a global pandemic, we wrote about managing the transition to remote work and what small businesses needed to do to make the new arrangement possible. If there’s one positive arising from the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that many of us have been forced to learn the skills necessary to function in the 21st century economy. In the last several weeks, tens of millions of employees have become intimately familiar with video conferencing, VPNs, online collaboration tools, cloud-based document storage and more.

We’re more than a month now into our new normal. Hopefully, your transition to remote work was a seamless one. More likely, your team probably hit a few hiccups along the way. You don’t just unveil a whole new way of doing business without some speed bumps.

One major hurdle for the newly initiated remote-work businesses has been how to store, share and manage sensitive records and information via the web. The big concern is how to do all those things while maintaining tight security protocols. Strangely appropriate, April also happens to be the National Records and Information Management month. So, this topic arises at just the right time on the calendar.

Rising Cyberthreats During COVID-19

cyber criminalYour business’ transition to remote work isn’t happening in a vacuum. In the digital environment there are always threats. And, as we’ve covered in previous posts, criminal activity online is growing every year. The COVID-19 pandemic that’s driving more and more businesses to operate on the web is simultaneously presenting more targets for hackers to exploit.

Cybercrime reports have spiked four-fold in the wake of the global spread of coronavirus, according to the FBI.

“There was this brief shining moment when we hoped that, you know, ‘gosh cyber criminals are human beings too,’ and maybe they would think that targeting or taking advantage of this pandemic for personal profit might be beyond the pale,” stated FBI Deputy Assistant Director Tonya Ugoretz  on a recent online panel hosted by the Aspen Institute. “Sadly that has not been the case.”

Cybercriminals have used COVID-19 themes to go after everything from hospitals and health care systems to wind farm operators. They’ve crashed private – but, unsecured – Zoom calls (Zoombombing) and targeted private email addresses with phishing schemes.

As a result, it’s not surprising that 7 out of 10 organizations reported in a mid-March survey by Adobe that they expected to increase their investment in cybersecurity solutions.

So, what should you, as a small business, be doing to secure your digital environment?

Work-From-Home Solutions

There are a few basic things your business needs in order for your work force to be able to work from home with any efficiency. For starters, your team will need access to and the ability to collaborate on company documents. You will also need to back up the work your employees complete on their company-issued equipment at home. And, of course, you’ll need to protect all of these cloud-based interactions from anyone who might have less than pure intentions.

Secure shared drive

So, let’s start with the company’s shared drive – the library of all your essential documents, from client work and purchase orders to business expenses and marketing materials. Many businesses rely on on-premise servers to house their company shared drive. But, with a network of employees working from their home offices, there is less need to have your document storage on site.

And, there are advantages to a cloud-based solution that’s tailored for remote collaboration. A cloud storage platform, like Microsoft’s OneDrive, allows a team of employees to work on the same document, simultaneously, while maintaining the same working version of the file. The file is also protected through encryption, both while it is being worked on and when transmitting to the cloud. And, there are additional helpful features like data loss prevention, file restore and intelligent discovery.

Beacon, itself, has recently transitioned to a cloud-based shared drive to help our team of employees working from home.

Data Backup

It’s easy enough to backup the data on your employee workstations when they’re in office. It doesn’t have to be difficult to back up your remote employees’ machines when they’re not physically connected to your network. A great solution for centrally enabled data backup is Veeam Backup & Replication. This is another resource we’ve deployed in-house.

cloud securityCloud security

Most cloud applications are created with security features built-in. Still, it’s important to implement protocols and promote habits that further protect your enterprise.

Cybersecurity best practices call for the use of VPNs (virtual private network) for all employees working from home. With cyber attacks on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is advised that businesses make sure they are updated to the latest versions of their VPNs and all patches are applied.

Multifactor authentication is another helpful security measure. Password protecting your company workstations and all remote applications ensures that your company resources stay safe, even if a phishing attack compromises an employee’s credentials.

Lastly, training your remote employees on how to spot phishing attacks and other security exploits can further reduce the risk of a successful cyber attack.

Beacon Knows Remote Work

Roughing your way through a transition to remote work? The BITS team can help you smooth the way. Give us a call, we’re here to help.

By | 2020-09-22T12:27:02+00:00 April 23rd, 2020|System Administration, BITS Team, IT Services|

Client Spotlight: Graham Personnel Services

How do BITS customers really feel about the job we do for them? We’re sure that almost every business asks itself a variation of the same question. After all, being successful is all about maintaining relationships.

Here, at BITS, we really wanted to know the answer. So, we decided to take the radical step of, you know, actually talking to our clients about how our services impact them.

Inaugural Client Spotlight

This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Dace Hennessee, General Manager of Graham Personnel Services. Dace was extremely welcoming and forthcoming about his company’s reliance on the IT expertise provided by BITS.

So, what stands out about BITS services to Dace?

“Beacon is a local company. Graham Personnel is a local company. I think that’s a good match. We like to support locally owned Triad companies.”

That answer is more than just a preference for doing business with a neighbor, however. It’s about quality and reliability. And, knowing that if the owner’s computer is experiencing an issue, it will be fixed as fast as humanly possible. (In this case, we did our thing and it was back to normal within the hour.)

In managed IT services, the speed with which a glitch is resolved can mean a difference of thousands of dollars. After all, if his computers are down, Dace isn’t placing too many people on work assignments.

And that can be a major concern if, let’s say, you’re moving your entire operation to a new location.

“The Move” 

One of the biggest projects BITS managed for Graham Personnel Services was transitioning the company’s IT infrastructure to new offices on Gallimore Diary Road. In addition to it’s 30+ employees, GPS also houses multiple classrooms with dozens of computer stations where applicants are screened for various skills.

“Two years ago, we switched everything from one location to another location. I think we were down for 30 minutes,” says Dace. “We were up and functional by 8:30 [a.m.]”

The BITS team handled all the planning, logistics and execution for the job, seamlessly transitioning employee work stations, classroom computers, company servers and presentation equipment to their new homes.

“A lot of that was planning. It was getting involved early,” observes Kevin Lackey, BITS Account Executive who was involved in the project. “Having that vision on the front side, knowing what the expectation was, and being involved so early really helped us. Because we knew: this is what he’s asking.”

What Else Does BITS do for GPS?

In addition to helping with the occasional monumental move, BITS provides all end-user support for GPS’ employee work stations. In plain language, we are Graham Personnel’s external IT team. Everything from managing software updates to helping recover lost passwords is managed by the BITS help desk.

We also help Dace keep an eye on equipment performance, recommending updates when necessary and managing the procurement process.

Last, but definitely not least, BITS also manages firewall and backup functions for the GPS website, keeping digital assets secure and functioning at 100%.

About Graham Personnel Services

Graham Personnel Services has a 50-year history of successfully placing job seekers in the Triad area with businesses, large or small, in the distribution, manufacturing, professional and healthcare sectors. Over the years, the company has developed expertise and earned recognition in helping Fortune 500 companies and small businesses in Greensboro and the surrounding communities fulfill their staffing needs.

During any given week, there are anywhere between 700 and 1,200 associates placed on assignments with Graham Personnel clients. The firm takes pride in its commitment to customer satisfaction and strives to be the local leader in recruiting.

Client Profile

Name: Graham Personnel Services

Size: 30+ employees

Industry: Staffing

Location: Greensboro, NC

BITS Services: end-user support (managed IT), firewall, backup

By | 2020-09-22T12:27:03+00:00 June 25th, 2019|System Administration, Computer Related, IT Services|

Is Your Business Ready for Hurricane Season?

Don’t look now, but hurricane season is once again bearing down upon us. Last year was predicted to be a below-average season. Instead, the Atlantic Ocean spit out 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes.

The damage sustained from 2018 tropical storms – which included, not one, but two major hurricanes (Florence and Michael) – reached nearly $50 billion. Power outages, dangerous winds, heavy rains, flooding and other hazards wreaked havoc on homes and businesses in many parts of the US.

There’s no telling what this season will bring. But, while you can’t predict when, or if, a major storm will strike, smart businesses plan for these types of disasters to ensure that they can survive and bounce back as quickly as possible.

One of the key requirements of a good business continuity plan is protecting your business data and network. To give your business the best chance of surviving a natural disaster, you need to consider your data backup, data recovery and infrastructure access needs.

Let’s talk about all three in a bit more detail.

Data Backup and Storage

Redundancy is a major theme in data protection. Putting in place a system that routinely saves your enterprise-wide data protects your business in case an unexpected event destroys your existing, on-site IT infrastructure. It also makes retrieving mistakenly-deleted files very easy.

In choosing a data backup solution, you’ll need to think about the following:

Data protection goals

How often does your data need to be backed up, and to what degree? There are several types of backup setups, including full backup, incremental backup and differential backup, and each has benefits and drawbacks.

Scalability

Optimally, you’ll need a data backup solution that can grow with your business.

Storage

Cloud storage solutions allow your data to stay protected in case something happens to your physical IT infrastructure – a key benefit if your businesses is flooded by a hurricane storm surge. Of course, legal or other constraints require other businesses to have their data backups on site. Many businesses rely on a hybrid on-site/cloud storage solution, giving them the best of both worlds.

Disaster Recovery

A good disaster recovery plan and solutions will help your business minimize or prevent downtime in case the worst does happen. A key step in setting up your backup recovery system is determining the appropriate recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO).

Simply put, RTO defines how quickly your business network and applications need to be back online after a sudden disruption. Some types of businesses – hospitals, for example – have an RTO of 0. They cannot afford to be down for even one second. Most other types of business have less stringent RTO constraints.

RPO is the threshold for how old your recovered data can be. How great is the disruption to your business if you lose the last hour of your operational data? Two hours? A day?

Effectively, RPO defines how often your data should be backed up, and sets the data loss tolerance.

IT Infrastructure Access 

If your business does succumb to a natural disaster, like a hurricane, a good business continuity plan will allow you to get your network back up before you even rummage through the rubble.

How easily can your team access the needed backup data? Does it need to do so remotely, from any device? These are key considerations in choosing the right solution for your business.

A well-designed disaster recovery solution will have your servers virtualized in the cloud and ready for you and your team to resume operations in no time.

Beacon Knows Affordable Small Business Solutions

It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to make sure that your business network is protected in case a natural disaster strikes. At Beacon, we partner with Datto, a leading provider of IT services, to implement robust and affordable disaster recovery solutions on behalf of our customers.

Get in touch with our team to learn more about ALTO, Datto’s platform designed to provide total data protection and enterprise-level functionality specifically to small businesses.

By | 2020-09-22T12:27:03+00:00 April 24th, 2019|IT Services|

Managed IT Services

Disaster Response Time

If you’ve ever been in the unfavorable position of seeing your business IT infrastructure compromised, you understand the necessity of an expedient response from your IT vendor. If you haven’t, thank goodness. Unfortunately, the rise in the number of successful web-based attacks increases the odds of you facing this situation sometime in the future.

Successful businesses protect themselves against known risks. So, how do you best prepare for the eventuality of your company network being attacked? Another way to ask this questions is: What are the elements of a good disaster preparedness plan that ensure the fastest response time?

At Beacon, we hang our hat on two essential elements when working with clients to secure their IT infrastructure: experienced live technicians, and a properly-configured remote tool kit.

Live Technicians Make All the Difference

It’s natural and easy to become reliant on technology. Humans have done this at every stage of our evolution. An appropriate present day example is the societal discussion taking place around automation. It’s true – robots and artificial intelligence may very well be the components that someday revolutionize the workplace.

But, even the smartest tech leaders of the most forward-looking companies are re-learning the value of human capital. As Elon Musk, the CEO of the upstart carmaker Tesla, recently acknowledged, there is such a thing as over-automation. It turns out that the key to ramping up the production of Tesla’s highly-anticipated Model 3 is not more robots, but more people.

We’ve always placed a high value on highly personal customer service. In fact, the calling card of Beacon’s IT services is the ability of clients to receive live assistance immediately.

If you’re faced with a cyber attack that took down your network, you don’t want to be reduced to leaving voice mails to your IT vendor. Or worse, relying on a corrupted or compromised network to figure out what’s what. You want to be speaking with a real expert right away, not three hours from now. It is this step that’s going to be the difference between restoring your network in minutes, rather than days.

Remote Tools Help Your Network Recover Quickly

Hopefully, your firewall solution is good enough to keep out any unsavory characters. But, if we’ve learned anything about IT security in the last few years, it’s that breaches can – and do – happen despite the most robust security setups.

If your defenses have been penetrated, what helps you get your systems back online the fastest is a responsive data backup system (that you had the foresight to install prior to the attack). There are two setups that yield the best results: local virtualization and cloud backup. Both can get you back online within hours, if not minutes.

Local virtualization relies upon an on-site device that’s connected to your network. In case of a breach, the device is automatically quarantined. It is then used to restore access to your data by transferring the data to a “clean” server, or by acting as a server itself.

The second method is similar to the first. The difference is in the way the backed up data is stored and accessed. In local virtualization, the backup data can be accessed locally, on the backup device.

With the cloud backup, your data is sent to the cloud at selected time intervals – could be as often as once an hour. The task can be scheduled for non-business hours or overnight, so it does not interrupt normal business operations. If the need arises, you can access the saved data from a cloud portal – a secure, dedicated web page. In this manner, you’re able to restore individual files; or, in a disaster recovery scenario, activate servers in the cloud to replicate the compromised servers on site. In some scenarios, cloud servers can even be set up to mimic the function of your on-site servers, allowing authorized users to access the data the way they normally would.

Is Your Network Protected From Today Exploits? 

If you’re not sure, give BITS a call at 336.546.6660. We’ll be happy to talk to you about your IT security concerns. Our team is experienced in crafting customized solutions for the most stringent requirements.

By | 2018-05-15T11:49:08+00:00 May 15th, 2018|BITS Team, IT Services|